The Moving Center

Playfulness and Learning

parent child with special needs

We played our way to organic, natural learning.

During our last intensive session in Germany I met a beautiful and bright little girl with cerebral palsy. When she arrived she mostly lay on her back, she did not have language but could say “ah.”
I built the whole week of work with her around playing with different objects – little balls, scarves and necklaces. Using movement, my voice, and the way we played, I created an environment where playing was “the name of the game.” There were no mistakes, but plenty of surprises and possibilities. When she tried to grab a necklace or differently sized and textured balls, I helped reframe every outcome as a success. It was wonderful to see her sheer joy. I did not call her attention to the remarkable changes I noticed, I didn’t want to distract her from learning through natural playfulness.
In the beginning, she had little control when she intended to grab or move the toys. With my help, her “mistakes” (the times she could not grab, or grabbed in a different way) became more dynamic, and she developed a larger palette of “mistakes.”
Through this process she quickly closed the gap between intention and action. Her movements became more nuanced, and she manipulated the objects with more precision.
Since we are learning creatures, this learning was generalized, and we soon saw changes in the way she communicated, her understanding of written language, as well as her movement.
She began holding and using her more affected hand in more relaxed, delicate ways. During story time before bed she went from pointing at one word for her mom to read, to pointing at a string of several words for her mom to read in sequence. By the end of the week she spontaneously started rolling to her belly and leaning on her hands, including the more affected hand, for the first time in her life.
I did not teach her that because no one can teach it. We played our way to organic, natural learning.
Eytan Lerner

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